A few weeks back, I was scrolling through Twitter in order to feel good about the world (because why else is anyone on Twitter?) when, lo and behold, I found a tweet I disagreed with! OK, have you picked your jaw up off the keyboard? Good. So, here’s what got me going. A rather popular and provocative author, Rachel Held Evans—who I suppose would be considered a part of the “evangelical left”—sent out this tweet: “We don’t have to cede the Bible to the fundamentalists.” At first, this statement got me all riled up. The arrogance of such a comment was, I thought, rather breathtaking, as though the Bible was a piece of property which we are all trying to control. But then it got me thinking: Who does get the final say over what the Bible says? Fundamentalists? Liberals? The church? My denomination? Who controls the Bible?
But then I realized, this is precisely the problem. There is a sense in which we have begun to treat the Bible as a piece of territory that is either ours to defend or conquer. You hear such wartime rhetoric from both theological liberals as well as the fundamentalists. How many apologetics books talk about the “battle for the Bible?” To be sure, the war is real. There are those who want to use the Bible for their own political ends, to advance their own causes and to defeat their enemies.
Consider how every ideological “-ism” recognizes the power in lobbing Bible verse grenades at their opponent to buttress their cause. Socialism will show how Jesus cared for the poor and the church held everything in common. Capitalism will respond by showing how wealth is not inherently problematic, but only an idolatrous love of it constitutes sin. Racism will demonstrate how slavery was accepted by the Bible. Feminism will emphasize verses that speak positively of women’s roles, while masculinism (which is a thing) touts the verses on male headship. And the battle rages on.
In an interview with Christianity Today, Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist, said that she is a feminist because of Jesus. The implication being that, if Jesus were around today, He would be a part of her Christian/feminist movement. This way of enlisting Jesus to your team is standard in America. Stephen Prothero’s marvelous American Jesus: How the Son of God became a National Icon, depicts how pretty much every ideological movement, both inside and outside the church, has enlisted Jesus to their cause. He writes,”[The] American Jesus has been something of a chameleon. Christians have depicted him as black and white, male and female, straight and gay, a socialist and a capitalist, a pacifist and a warrior, a Ku Klux Klansman and a civil rights agitator” (pg. 8). And each of them has the bible verses they need to back them up.
The Scriptures—and thus the Jesus they proclaim—have become a wax nose that everyone is seeking to fit to their own preferred face, or to return to our original analogy, the territory everyone is fighting for so they can have the power. And that is precisely the problem. See, what everyone is failing to realize is that the Bible gives power to nobody! In fact, it takes power away. It doesn’t support your or my particular “-ism.” It calls a thing what it is, and attacks that idol until it’s dead. The problem is the idea that the Scriptures are ours, or anyone’s, to cede. No, the Scriptures don’t belong to us. The Bible isn’t ours. They are what God says. We belong to the Scriptures!
The problem with all sorts of idealolgical “-isms” is that they seek to save the world. In order to accomplish this, they must pit themselves against, suppress, and eradicate the enemy. Whereas, the only one who can actually save the world sacrifices Himself for the sake of His enemy—while we were yet sinners. His work is to love His enemy, to pray for those who persecuted Him—“Father, forgiven them…” And all of these “-isms” simply die in the shadow of that sort of God. He renders them powerless and condemns them as loveless and proud.
In fact, a great deal of the New Testament speaks against this sort of ideological power play. The world of the New Testament was a culture of status and shame. In order for a person to gain greater status, others had to be shamed. The more you shamed another, the higher you sat in the social order. So, the first remained first by making sure the last remained last. So, in our day, in order for men to maintain power, they must suppress women (masculinism). In the same way, in order for women to gain power, they must overcome men (feminism). Yet, our God is one who humbles himself to the point of death on a cross for those who would take His power. He who was rich with the glories of heaven, for your sake, became poor so you might become rich. God serves those beneath Him. He loves His enemies. He prayed for those who persecute Him on the cross.
This is why salvation, let alone worldly peace, will never come through any sort of revolution or movement, because the world is always vying for power and never acting in love. The first must make everyone else last. Woe to us for using God’s Word in our power plays. The Word is in charge of us. Whether we like it or not, we belong to it. It is not ours to control, let alone protect. The Word will cede nothing to us. It is the Word by which our ideological revolutions will be judged and condemned. It is the Word that kills us now in our pride. Yet, once we finally realize we are left with nothing, it is the Word that will raise us to new life with forgiveness and mercy. For it is the Word that delivers to us Jesus Christ, the crucified One, who will join no cause, but will make His power perfect in our weakness.